Monogram Pictures Corporation
Distributed: Monogram Pictures Corporation, February 14, 1944
Production: Early September – mid-September 1943
Copyright: Monogram Pictures Corporation, January 8, 1944; LP12543
Opened: Strand, Brooklyn, N.Y., January 6, 1944
Sound: Western Electric Mirrophonic Recording
Film: Black and white
Running Time: 65 minutes
Source: “Suggested by the original character created by Earl Derr Biggers”
Producers: Phillip N. Krasne and James S. Burkett
Director: Phil Rosen
Assistant Director: George Moskov (not credited)
Original Screenplay: George Callihan
Director of Photography: Ira Morgan
Set Decorations: Al Greenwood
Musical Director: Karl Hajos
Film Editor: Martin G. Cohn
Sound Recording: Glen Glenn
Set Designer: Dave Milton
Production Manager: George Moskov
CAST (as credited):
Sidney Toler: Charlie Chan
Mantan Moreland: Birmingham Brown
Arthur Loft: Jones
Gwen Kenyon: Inez Aranto
Sarah Edwards: Mrs. Hargue
George Lewis: Paul Aranto
Marianne Quon: Iris Chan
Benson Fong: Tommy Chan
Muni Seroff: Peter Laska
Barry Bernard: David Blake
Gene Stutenroth: Louis Philipe Vega (alias Philipe von Vegon)
Eddie Chandler: Lewis
Lelah Tyler: Mrs. Winters
UNCREDITED CAST (alphabetical):
Davidson Clark: Sgt. Billings
John Elliot: George Melton
Stan Jolley: Coroner’s Assistant
George Lessey: Slade
George Melton, an inventor who is developing a secret torpedo to destroy German U-Boats, mysteriously dies while opening a closet door. The plans for this important weapon disappear, and Charlie Chan, who is now working for the U.S. Secret Service in Washington, D.C., is quickly summoned to investigate.
Responding to the call, Chan only has time to give a quick “Hello” followed by a “Goodbye” to of a pair his children, son Tommy and daughter Iris, who have come to Washington to visit their father and see the sights. Chan instructs them to wait for him at their hotel while he proceeds to the Melton house. However, the brother and sister decide to follow their father and conduct an investigation of their own.
At the house, Chan is greeted by Sargeant Billings, an old friend from Honolulu, and fellow Secret Service agents Jones, another old acquaintance, and Lewis. He is led to a roomful of people whom Melton had invited to a cocktail party prior to his death. Chan begins to question each member of the assembled group: Mrs. Winters, a flighty socialite; her chauffeur, Birmingham Brown; Louis Vega, a war refugee who is now an importer; Inez Aranto and her wheelchair-bound brother Paul Aranto; David Blake, a pompous politician; Melton’s housekeeper Mrs. Hargue; and Peter Laska, Vega’s valet. It is at this time that Chan’s offspring make their noisy entrance, as they run into Birmingham Brown in the dark basement of the Melton house.
Agent Lewis finds the plans for a torpedo hidden on the right side of a bookcase. Chan immediately determines that they are a crude forgery and that it is unlikely that Melton had placed them there because he was left-handed.
Upstairs, Chan finds a book written by an electrical engineer named von Vegon entitled Magnetic Properties of Electricity. While he is there, Mrs. Hargue brings the detective a knife. As the two talk, a mysterious figure enters the darkened hallway below and removes a painting, revealing a wall safe. Carelessly replacing the painting, the figure disappears into the darkness. Noticing that the painting has been moved, Chan discovers the locked safe.
Later, Chan retires outside to speak to the agents in confidence. Birmingham steps behind the nearby bar in the adjacent room to pour himself a drink and notices a reflection of a hand holding a gun that is pointed at Chan. Brown screams, causing the assassin to miss his target and flee. Chan then requests the key to the wall safe from Mrs. Hargue, but finds that none of the keys will open the safe.
Proceeding to search Melton’s upstairs laboratory, accompanied by Tommy and Birmingham, an assailant turns off the lights. Chan tosses a book at the intruder who then begins to shoot wildly at Chan and the others. Tommy hurls an explosive charge at their attacker, who runs off.
As Chan reassembles everyone in the living room, the coroner’s report arrives. After examining the report, Chan calls the group into the hallway to demonstrate how Melton was murdered. With Birmingham’s help, Chan shows how, as Melton pulled the chain to turn on the light, the killer sent a lethal charge of electricity through it, electrocuting him.
Reconvening the group in the living room, Chan accuses Vega of being the celebrated electrical engineer and author von Vegon, whose book he had found earlier upstairs. Chan adds that Vega had killed Melton in order to steal the secret torpedo plans. As Vega begins to respond to Chan’s accusations, he collapses in great pain as he is mysteriously shot in the back.
After whispering something to Lewis, Chan begins to question everyone about their connection with Vega. When Lewis, following Chan’s instructions, roughly confronts Inez, her brother springs from his wheelchair to defend her. Paul then admits that after recovering from injuries suffered in an automobile accident, he remained in his wheelchair in order to test the intentions of his political enemies.
Mrs. Hargue finds a key on the piano that Chan uses to successfully open the wall safe. Distracted by his son Tommy, he narrowly avoids being shot by a specially rigged gun that had been placed inside the safe earlier by the mysterious figure.
Deducing that von Vegon was killed while a number of persons were standing to his front around the piano, the murder weapon, a noiseless spring gun had to have been placed on the wall behind the couch where the victim had been seated. Chan concludes that the weapon was fired by means of a powerful electromagnet whose force was focused on the gun which was mounted on the wall. The gun was fired by a switch that was concealed underneath a piano in the same room, and he accuses Peter Laska of pulling the switch as he was afraid that Vega would implicate him in Melton’s murder.
As the pleading Laska is taken away, and the case is apparently solved, Chan dismisses everyone. Mrs. Winters hurriedly begins to depart to “feed her Pekinese,” only to find her way blocked by Laska, who has just reappeared, and then Jones. Explaining that she was seated at the piano, Chan points out that she was the only person who could have reached the switch. Chan accuses her of Vega’s murder. Taking a small figure of the Statue of Liberty, which Winters has concealed on her person, Chan smashes it to reveal the missing torpedo plans inside. After thanking Peter for acting as a decoy, Chan concludes that Mrs. Winters, who in reality is master spy Fraulein Manlich, had killed her accomplice Vega, fearing that he was about to confess and then incriminate her.
NOTES: This was the first Charlie Chan film that Sidney Toler made at Monogram Pictures after leaving Twentieth Century-Fox following the cancellation of the Charlie Chan film series at that studio. Toler, who had starred as Chan in many of the Fox films, bought the screen rights to the character from the widow of writer Earl Derr Biggers and continued to star as Chan for Monogram until his death in 1947, after which time Roland Winters assumed the role. This film also marked the beginning of Charlie Chan’s work with the U.S. Secret Service for the remainder of the war. Mantan Moreland also made his debut as Birmingham Brown, a character who would become a mainstay of the series for the remainder of its run. Benson Fong appeared for the first time as Number Three Son Tommy, while his sister Iris, portrayed by Marianne Quon, made her sole series appearance in Charlie Chan in the Secret Service. The California State Building (1931-1975) in Los Angeles is the government building that was used for Charlie Chan’s office at the Secret Service. Early in the film, Sidney Toler as Charlie Chan walks through the lobby of the State Building and out to the street to his awaiting taxicab.
Adapted from: AMERICAN FILM INSTITUTE CATALOG – Within Our Gates: Ethnicity in American Feature Films, 1911-1960
CHARLIE CHAN’S APHORISMS
Everything grow rapidly in Hawaii.
When alibi pushed at me, always suspect motive in woodpile.
Detective without curiosity is like glass eye at keyhole – no good.
Ninety-nine times out of hundred, right- or left-handed person turn instinctively toward controlling side.
Always someone about to stick fly in ointment.
Trouble with modern children, they do not smart in right place.
Man who never leave wheelchair should never wear out shoe leather.
If man places self in way of finger of suspicion, must not be surprised if he receive poke in the eye.
Suspicion, like rain, fall upon just and unjust.
Murderer always choose weapon he know best.
OTHER WORTHY STATEMENTS:
Dead man’s actions calling urgently for explanation. (To Jones)
Anyone else wish to nominate self as discoverer of body? (To assembled suspects after three claim to have discovered the body of George Melton)
All Chinese to me. (To Birmingham Brown regarding what son Tommy and daughter Iris had just spoken in Chinese)
Children go through life with same tact as tornado. (Regarding the unceremonious entrance of son Tommy and daughter Iris)
Difficulty now would be to find someone present who could not be guilty. (To Paul Aranto)
Always someone about to stick fly in ointment. This time I am unlucky man with three flies. (To Tommy, Iris, and Birmingham Brown)
You are like business end of waterspout – always running off at mouth. (To Tommy)
Splendid instrument for playing and cutting up. (Regarding the knife that was handed to Charlie Chan by Mrs. Hargue)
Like talk to typhoon. (To Jones regarding Mrs. Winters)
Explanation too perfect to be true. (To David Blake who denied being the one who had just attacked Charlie Chan)
You protect yourself with umbrella of innocence, but, at moment, am afraid your umbrella have big leak. (To Paul Aranto)
Quiet, detective at work. (To Tommy)
Pop, pop, pop. You sound like outboard motor. (To Tommy)
Murder gun staring at us like clock trying to hide face behind hands.
THE WIT AND WISDOM OF BIRMINGHAM BROWN
“Ain’t that somethin’! They even got a walkin’ ration around here!” (After not being allowed to leave the late George Melton’s home)
“Every time he [Charlie Chan] looks at me, he makes me feel as futile as a traveling salesman with a ‘A’ card.” (An “A” card was the lowest level gasoline ration card issued by the United States government during World War II.)
“They insist on murder, so I think I’ll mix me up a little serving, there.” (As he prepares to mix a potent drink)
Tommy: “What do you want to go home for?”
“I forgot somethin’.”
Tommy: “What did you forget?”
“I forgot to stay there.”
“A foxhole. That’s what I need.” (Upon spotting a safe hiding place in the late George Melton’s laboratory)
Variety, January 12, 1944
Charlie Chan has moved over to the Monogram lot from 20th-Fox, and the script supplied the veteran detective for his first venture under the new banner is not one of the series’ best. Actionless mystery is strictly a program filler.
Sidney Toler, who shifted to Monogram along with the Chan stories, tries hard to create interest in Chan’s new adventure, but is hampered by halting direction and wordy material.
Chan, as a government agent, is assigned to solve mystery surrounding death of an inventor and also to find secret plans stolen from latter. In doing so, he is aided by Gwen Kenyon, Mantan Moreland, Delah Tyler and others in average performance. Majority of sequences take place in home of murdered inventor, thus confining the action and adding to the stodginess of the film.
PROBABLE DATE: Late summer or early fall 1943
DURATION: One day
LOCATION: Washington, D.C.
ACCORDING TO GEORGE MELTON, THE DESTRUCTIVE POWER OF THE REAL BOMB IN HIS LABORATORY: “It’s more destructive than a blockbuster. If that thing were to drop, everything within a two-hundred-yard radius would be destroyed – blown to bits.”
ACCORDING TO AGENT LEWIS, THE DESCRIPTION OF THE ACTUAL BOMB IN MELTON’S LABORATORY: “…the one with the black cross painted on it.”
ACCORDING TO GEORGE MELTON, THE LENGTH OF TIME THAT HE HAD BEEN GUARDED BY THE SECRET SERVICE: “…two weeks…”
THE FAMOUS CHINESE GENERAL IN THE FIRST PICTURE SHOWN IN CHARLIE CHAN’S OFFICE: General Chiang Kai-shek
THE SITTING U.S. PRESIDENT IN THE SECOND PICTURE SHOWN IN CHARLIE CHAN’S OFFICE: Franklin D. Roosevelt
THE TYPE OF INVENTION THAT GEORGE MELTON WAS WORKING ON: A torpedo that “would utterly destroy the (German) U-boat menace.”
THE REASON FOR TOMMY AND IRIS CHAN’S VISIT TO WASHINGTON, D.C.: A sightseeing trip
THE NAME OF THE CAFE LOCATED ACROSS THE STREET FROM SECRET SERVICE HEADQUARTERS: Blue Diamond Grills
THE ADVERTISED SPECIALITIES OF THE BLUE DIAMOND GRILLS: Frosted Malts, Hamburgers
THE IDENTITY OF THE FLAG FLYING AT SECRET SERVICE HEADQUARTERS: California state flag
THE NUMBER OF THE YELLOW CAB TAXI THAT TOOK CHARLIE CHAN TO GEORGE MELTON’S HOUSE: 610
THE NAMES OF THE SECRET SERVICE AGENTS GUARDING GEORGE MELTON: Jones and Lewis
CHARLIE CHAN’S “OLD FRIENDS”: Sgt. Billings (“Old friend from Honolulu and United States Marines.”) and Agent Jones (Called “Jonsey” by Charlie Chan, Jones and Chan had worked together ten years ago.)
AGENT JONES’ NICKNAME FOR MRS. HARGUE: “The Duchess”
ACCORDING TO JONES, THE NUMBER OF CHILDREN IN THE CHAN FAMILY THE LAST TIME THAT HE HAD WORKED WITH CHARLIE CHAN “TEN YEARS AGO”: “…seven…” (NOTE: By the time recalled by Agent Jones, circa 1933, the Chans actually had 11 children.)
AGENT JONES’ DESCRIPTION OF MRS. WINTERS: “The nervous nightmare is Mrs. Winters. She came for cocktails and got hysterics.”
ACCORDING TO AGENT JONES, LUIS VEGA’S INFORMATION: “War refugee, now a traveling salesman for Harig Brothers Exporters of Smyrna.”
TWO ACTIVITIES IN WHICH GEORGE MELTON HAD PARTICIPATED WHILE AT COLLEGE: Glee Club and baseball
GEORGE MELTON’S “MISSING TORPEDO PLAN” AS FOUND BY AGENT LEWIS:
THE TYPE OF DOG OWNED BY MRS. WINTERS: A Pekinese
THE STATUETTE MADE BY MRS. WINTERS AS A GIFT TO INEZ ARANTO: Statue of Liberty
ACCORDING TO INEZ ARANTO, THE REASON WHY MRS. WINTERS MADE THE STATUETTE FOR HER: “…as a going away gift.”
THE OTHER CHAN SON MENTIONED BY SGT. BILLINGS: Jimmy
ACCORDING TO PAUL ARANTO, THE LENGTH OF TIME THAT PETER LASKA HAD WORKED FOR HIM: “He’s been with me for four years.”
THE DEPARTMENT FOR WHICH DAVID BLAKE WORKED: Department of Political Ecomomy (D.P.E.)
ACCORDING TO CHARLIE CHAN, WHAT THE MORNING PAPER HAD TO SAY ABOUT DAVID BLAKE: “Quote: ‘What David Blake does not know about political economy could fill many books,’ unquote.”
THE TITLE OF THE BOOK PULLED FROM THE BOOKCASE BY MRS. WINTERS: “Life Among The Ubangis”
THE OWNER OF THE KNIFE THAT WAS FOUND BY MRS. HARGUE IN THE KITCHEN: Peter Laska
THE TITLE PAGE OF THE BOOK FOUND BY CHARLIE CHAN IN GEORGE MELTON’S STUDY:
THE INTENDED DESTINATION OF LUIS VEGA AND THE ARANTOS WHO HAD PLANNED TO LEAVE THE NEXT DAY: California
THE COLLEGE ATTENDED BY GEORGE MELTON: Yale University
GEORGE MELTON’S BASEBALL NICKNAME: “Portside”
THE MEANING OF GEORGE MELTON’S BASEBALL NICKNAME: He was a left-handed pitcher
THE LENGTH OF TIME THAT PAUL ARANTO HAD KNOWN LUIS VEGA: One year
THE AMOUNT OF TIME THAT MRS. HARGUE HAD SPENT IN SMYRNA: Two months
THE SUSPECTS WHO HAD BEEN TO SMYRNA AT ONE TIME OR ANOTHER: Luis Vega, Paul Aranto, Inez Aranto, David Blake, and Mrs. Hargue
THE NUMBER OF ATTEMPTS ON CHARLIE CHAN’S LIFE IN THE MELTON HOUSE: Three
THE OWNER OF THE GUN THAT WAS FOUND IN THE KITCHEN PANTRY BY MRS. HARGUE: Peter Laska
ACCORDING TO JONES, THE NUMBER OF SHOTS RECENTLY FIRED FROM PETER LASKA’S GUN: “Four bullets fired from it recently.”
THE ACTUAL TORPEDO PLAN AS REVEALED BY CHARLIE CHAN:
THE GOVERNMENT AGENCY TELEPHONED BY BIRMINGHAM BROWN: Manpower Commission
THE ITEM THAT WAS REQUIRED BY THE FEDERAL MANPOWER COMMISSION IN ORDER FOR BIRMINGHAM BROWN TO GET ANOTHER WARTIME JOB: An availability ticket from his previous employer (Mrs. Winters)
“A” card – The lowest-level gasoline ration card issued by the United States government during World War II.
Birmingham Brown: “Every time he looks at me, he makes me feel as futile as a traveling salesman with nothin’ but a ‘A’ card.”
bats in her hat – (Idiom – as used) Probably referring to a confused state of mind.
Iris Chan: “She’s got bats in her hat and bees in her bustle.”
bees in her bustle – (Idiom – as used) Probably referring to being in a state of confusion.
Iris Chan: “She’s got bats in her hat and bees in her bustle.”
black sheep – A member of a family or other group who is considered undesirable or disreputable.
Charlie Chan: “Excuse, please, but sputtering firecracker and black sheep are noisiest members of Chan family.”
blockbuster – A large bomb used to demolish extensive areas (as a city block).
George Melton: “It’s more destructive than a blockbuster.”
Chiang Kai-shek (1887–1975) – Chinese Nationalist leader. He was also called Chiang Chung-cheng.
(A portrait of Chiang Kai-shek can be seen hanging on the wall in Charlie Chan’s office.)
cocktail – Any of various mixed alcoholic drinks consisting usually of brandy, whiskey, vodka, or gin combined with fruit juices or other liquors and often served chilled.
David Blake: “Mr. Melton asked me to drop by for cocktails.”
Confucius (551-469 BC) – A Chinese philosopher and politician of the Spring and Autumn period (771-476 BC). The philosophy of Confucius emphasized personal and governmental morality, correctness of social relationships, justice, kindness, and sincerity.
Tommy Chan: “You’re Confucius and I’m Confucius Junior.”
cooking – (Slang) To happen, develop, or take place.
Iris Chan: “Something’s cooking!”
DPE (Department of Political Economy) – A fictitious department of the United States federal government.
Charlie Chan: “DPE. What does that stand for, please?”
dud – (Informal) One who is disappointingly ineffective or unsuccessful.
Iris Chan: Are you a detective or a dud?”
foxhole – A quickly dug pit for individual protection from enemy fire.
Birmingham Brown: “A foxhole; that’s just what I need.”
hepcats – (Slang) Performers or devotees of swing or jazz in the 1940s.
Tommy Chan: “…we’re hepcats of the younger generation.”
icky – (Informal) Offensive; distasteful.
Tommy Chan: “She’s strictly icky.”
Jap – (Offensive slang) Used as a disparaging term for a person of Japanese birth or descent. Much used during World War II in reference to the Japanese.
Tommy Chan: “This is what made the Jap fleet not so fleet.”
Manpower Commission (War Manpower Commission) – In January of 1942, as the United States shifted to a wartime economy, all employment services were federalized by executive order and transferred to the United States War Manpower Commission. The goal of the War Manpower Commission was to “stabilize” employment and bring about a full utilization of the labor force by “placing a man on a job where he will use his highest skill in furtherance of the war effort, and keeping him there.” With the end of the war in 1945, the War Manpower Commission was dissolved.
Birmingham Brown: “Hello, is this the Manpower Commission?”
Miss Liberty – An informal term for the Statue of Liberty, the famous monumental sculpture that prominently graces New York Harbor.
Charlie Chan: “Miss Liberty – very lovely lady.”
off the beam – (Idiom) On the wrong track; off course.
Tommy Chan: Right off the cop and way off the beam.”
off the cop – (Idiom – as used) Probably a reference to someone being of an unstable mind.
Tommy Chan: “Right off the cop and way off the beam.”
out to sea – (Idiom – as used) Probably meaning that someone is “gone,” or out of their mind; crazy.
Iris Chan: “He means she’s a slick chick gone to sea, Pop.”
pal – (Informal) A friend; a chum.
Secret Service Agent: “Going somewhere, pal?”
Pekinese – A Chinese breed of small short-legged dogs with a long silky coat and broad flat muzzle.
Mrs. Winters: “It’s my dog, my Pekinese, he has to be fed.”
phony detail – An assigned duty that is not genuine or real.
Lewis: “…but, you’ll have to admit, it’s a phony detail.”
photoelectric cell – An electronic device having an electrical output that varies in response to incident radiation, especially to visible light. Also called electric eye.
Charlie Chan: “Photoelectric cell behind eyes of head.”
pin – (Slang) To attribute a crime to someone.
Iris Chan: “He’s trying to pin something on us, and it’s no bouquet.”
portside – (Baseball slang) A left-handed ballplayer, most often used in reference to a pitcher.
Charlie Chan: “Even Chinese detective know portside ballplayer is left-handed.”
presidential warrant – A document that gives the bearer special authority.
Jones: “Plenty of authority – I carry a presidential warrant.”
scram – (Slang) To leave a scene at once; go abruptly.
Birmingham Brown: “I better scram out of here before I scram out of my skin!”
slick chick – (Slang) Probably a reference to a sneaky woman.
Iris Chan: “He means she’s a slick chick gone to sea, Pop.”
Smyrna – A port city also known as Izmir, in western Turkey.
Jones: “War refugee, now a traveling salesman for Harig Brothers Exporters of Smyrna.”
Ubanghis – Collective name for a group of African tribes living along the Congo River in the former French Congo.
Mrs. Winters (reading the title of a book): “Life Among the Ubanghis.”
U-boat – A submarine of the German navy.
Secret Service Chief Inspector: “His newest invention, which the Navy believes would utterly destroy the U-boat menace…”
For a complete glossary list from all films, please visit our Charlie Chan Glossary.